More Covid restrictions might yet be needed in Preston to bring virus under control
There is no guarantee that new measures introduced to help stem the spread of coronavirus will be sufficient to bring rising rates of infection under control.
That was the stark assessment of Lancashire’s director of public health after the government announced sweeping restrictions in all parts of the county except Blackpool.
Several of the rules – including a ban on mixing between households in homes and gardens - have been in force in the Preston City Council area for more than a month. But as of 22nd September, they will be extended to all districts, including Chorley and South Ribble.
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Hospitality venues will be required to close between 10pm and 5am and pubs and restaurants will also be restricted to a table service - the only additional legal regulations that do not already apply in Preston.
Residents in all areas are also being strongly advised to avoid using public transport unless it is essential, not to attend professional or amateur sporting events as a spectator and avoid household mixing in public venues – with the latter having been advised in Preston since early August.
However, Dr, Sakthi Karunanithi said that “only time will tell” whether the move will make any dent in rapidly rising Covid rates, particularly in areas with the highest levels of infection. Currently, Preston is the third-worst affected area of the country, with its cases trebling since the start of the month.
“We need to go for swift, decisive action as a society with maximum possible suppression of transmission of the virus, hopefully for the shortest period of time, “ Dr. Karunanithi said.
“If this doesn’t control the spread, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were further measures, particularly in areas where there are high levels of transmission - before a much wider geographical intervention.
“The impact of rising infections is starting to show up in hospital admissions. There is generally a two-week gap and we are starting to see that happening. We also know [the virus] is widespread in communities across Lancashire at high levels.”
The public health boss said that the so-called “rule of six” was not enough to drive levels down in Lancashire – and the crucial action needed was to stop households mixing and stick to social distancing and hygiene measures.
Dr. Karunanithi also warned that any problems in the test and trace system would be like having “a hole in your boat”.
His message came at the end of a week in which Preston was forced to reduce the days its community testing sites were able to open due to a lack of lab capacity in the national system – and residents elsewhere in Central Lancashire were left struggling to book tests.
“We do need to have a more accessible, more timely test and trace programme for addressing the transmission – and that is a work in progress,” Dr. Karunanithi said, adding that representations had been made to the government.
A cross-party group of council leaders and MPs has also written to the Prime Minister to appeal for improvements to a testing system that is “failing to keep pace with demand”.
Dr. Karunanithi also said that Lancashire was seeing "incidences" of Covid-19 in schools, but that the schools themselves were not the source of the outbreaks - and he added that he was hopeful schools would not have to close.
Meanwhile, Lancashire Police deputy chief constable Terry Woods pleaded for people to make “sensible decisions” and not have “one last blast” before the regulations come into force.
“This is a moral responsibility that each of us have to look after ourselves, our families, friends and communities. My big plea is please don’t [act irresponsibly] this weekend – it won’t help things, it will make things significantly worse.
“Please don’t let us have to get into the emergency response that we had to get into at the beginning of this virus. There is still a chance for the public of Lancashire to reverse this trend,” DCC Woods said.
Angie Ridgwell, chair of the Lancashire Resilience Forum, also warned people that the new rules would be enforced based on where they lived – not where they might be travelling.
“You can’t just go across to Blackpool and think the regulations won’t apply to you, because they will do.”
Ms. Ridgwell acknowledged that people were “tired” of having to live their lives under the cloud of Covid restrictions, but asked for people to start abiding by the new ones immediately and not wait until next Tuesday when they become law. She also warned:
“Controlling the virus has to be everyone’s priority, because if we don’t do so, we’re going to see further restrictions and, worse still, we’ll start to see deaths taking place as we head towards the winter.
“We are doing this for your safety and the safety of your families and loved ones,” she added.